In a blow for advocates of safe and legal abortion, the Supreme Court today decided to review part of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals decision in NOW v Scheidler, the civil case where anti-abortion extremists were found to have conspired illegally to close women’s reproductive health clinics, by using threats and extortionate acts against doctors, clinic employees and patients, in violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). “After 16 years, yet another hurdle for justice,” said Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation. Smeal initiated the case in 1986 as president of the National Organization for Women.
The Supreme Court has agreed to review two issues: whether the actions of the anti-abortion extremists, including restraining clinic workers and patients, entering clinics and destroying medical equipment and blocking doorways and entrances to clinics, qualify as extortion under the Hobbs Act and whether private plaintiffs, such as NOW, can get injunctions under RICO as the government can.
In its review of the case, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals found that “the record is replete with evidence of instances in which their [the anti-abortion extremists’] conduct crossed the line from protected speech to illegal acts, including acts of violence.” Further, the Court stated that letters sent by Joseph Scheidler, a key anti-abortion extremist, to clinics promising assaults if the clinic remained open “constituted true threats outside the protection of the First Amendment.”
The case will be heard in the 2002-2003 term.